Tuesday, November 3, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Grinder' - Dean Commits Too Much, Too Quickly to a New Relationship in 'A Bittersweet Grind (Une Mouture Amer)'

FOX's The Grinder - Episode 1.05 "A Bittersweet Grind (Une Mouture Amer)"

Just as Dean prepares to give up on what he thinks is a hopeless search for love, he is reunited with Gail (Christina Applegate), an old flame who restores his belief in romance. Deb encourages Stewart to change his strict ways and let Lizzie have a supervised date with Joel Zadak.

Dean's life has been defined by his work as Mitch Grinder on The Grinder for so long. That's why he returned home to Boise. He wanted his life to go into a different direction. He had no problem using his fame in order to become a real lawyer and help minor cases. But now, he's hoping to move past the show and is surprised when that doesn't instantly happen to him. When people look at him, they still just see the character he played for eight seasons. He wants to be defined as his own person. But he also wants that to be real. He wants to have what his brother and his father have. He sees their lives as what he wants to have. He puts himself in a situation that mimics the lives of the rest of his family. But it's not real. That's a realization that Dean has to make himself during "A Bittersweet Grind (Une Mouture Amer)."

Dean is defeated when his latest sexual conquest just wants him to do and say all the things he did on the show. She even wants to watch the show during the act. That's a big sign to Dean that this isn't what he wants. He enjoys the fame. It has been very fulfilling for him for so long. But now, he wants something else. The rest of the world just has to adjust to that as well. That's a lot to ask though. Dean has been working at the firm for a couple of episodes now. Dean Sr. and Todd treat him like a wise colleague while Stewart and Claire are still incredulous to everything that he does. This hasn't been a successful second career for him yet though. The majority of people still only care about his work as an actor on the one show.

That's why it's so easy for Dean to fall in love when Stewart and Debbie set him up with his high school girlfriend, Gail (Christina Applegate). They know that she is single again - though they clearly don't know a whole lot about the rest of her life. They believe that she will be a good match for Dean. She's someone who knew him before he was famous. They hope her opinion of him will be informed by more than just the show. It's refreshing for Dean to see her again. She represents the life he could have lived had he never left to become an actor. She could be the family he had. He could be the parent to her child. The idea of this relationship is much more enticing than the relationship itself. That leads to a couple of really great comedic set pieces as Dean quickly falls in love with this woman.

Dean wants to make this relationship work because it is so different than all of his previous relationships from the past few years. It's because of that need that he doesn't see all of the warning signs that things aren't what they appear to be. He commits very quickly to this relationship. After one day, he's ready to whisk her away on an adventure. That creates a moment of peace and unity at the firm. They never worked more efficiently than they did during Dean's time away. That gives value to keeping this relationship going. And yet, none of it is real. After Dean moves in and becomes a father to her adult son, he notices that she's been lying about not having a TV. He knows his show so well that he knows when people quote it just passing by. That's his moment of clarity. The show is still a huge definer of his life. He still breaks into a big "Grinder" moment as he asks for Stewart to unveil the spot where the TV should be. But it's much more of a devastating moment for Dean as he realizes that this relationship isn't any different than the one he had at the start of the episode. Gail just put in more effort to make it work and Dean was vulnerable enough to let it happen.

That does provide some strong scenes between the brothers though. Stewart largely just wants Dean out of his house. He's at his happiest when his plan is working and Dean is no longer at the office causing problems and distracting people. But Dean continues to lay on tables and countertops drowning in self-pity. It's a lesson that Dean learns again. He can't rush into this life. He has to slowly take it in over time and allow people to see him differently. That's what's going to lead to happiness. Right now, it's just a hilarious sequence of events meant to amuse an audience. It's very effective at that. But Dean also wants something more. He is given some happiness by being able to parent Ethan in a way that Stewart can't understand. That's the new thing he is able to grasp onto by episode's end. That's enough of a victory right now to make this episode so strong and distinct.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Bittersweet Grind (Une Mouture Amer)" was written by Sean Clements and directed by Matt Sohn.
  • Stewart and Debbie's parenting struggles aren't that great of a story in this episode. As many people point out, their "It's Ethan!" defense is very thin and weak. It got annoying very fast. The story only really got slightly amusing when Dean got involved.
  • Dean has got both his father and Todd convinced that he is entangled in a will they/won't they dynamic with Claire. She couldn't care less about his relationship with Gail but he still wants to make sure she doesn't feel bad because of it.
  • Claire is also adopted which gives her some leverage when Dean starts talking about his new relationship with Gail's son. 
  • Stewart: "Hey Dean, what are you doing?" Dean: "That is the question, isn't it?"
  • Stewart: "So you just chose to phrase that in the most misleading way possible?" Dean: "In the most dramatic way possible."
  • Dean: "Hold my calls." Claire: "Has he ever even gotten a call here?" Todd: "I've called him here."
  • Dean to Gail: "You got it from a show Entertainment Weekly called 'One of the more competent legal dramas in quite some time.'"